TFC's Mariner: Someone's got to be a leader on backline

TFC defender Richard Eckersley

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TORONTO – Toronto FC head coach Paul Mariner is looking for leaders to step up on his backline.

Injuries to more experienced players have left Toronto FC with a young defense and Mariner feels it showed in the second half on Saturday, when a 94th-minute goal allowed New England a 2-2 tie at BMO Field.

Toronto led 2-0 after the first half and in the second 45 dropped back on defense more than necessary, creating too much space between the backline and the midfield. New England were only too happy to exploit the extra room.

HIGHLIGHTS: Toronto 2, New England 2

“You just need a commander at the back who can get you up the field and we’re just lacking that at the moment,” Mariner said Monday after training.

The starting back four for the past two games were Jeremy Hall and Richard Eckersley (both 23 years old), Ashtone Morgan (21) and Doneil Henry (19).

Toronto also gave up a two-goal lead in a 3-3 draw in Houston last Wednesday with the tying goal scored in the 90th minute.

“Richard has played some games in England, so I guess he’s got to start to become a leader now,” Mariner said. “Ashtone’s a Canadian international, he’s got to start to become a leader now. Sometimes I think they’re a little bit reticent.”

Canadian international Adrian Cann is out with a knee injury – an MRI on Friday showed it might not be as serious as first feared – and Jamaican international Dicoy Williams is coming back gradually after missing a year to knee surgery.

Mariner felt that last season, Williams was becoming the player the team had hoped he would be. That progress was derailed when he was injured playing for Jamaica. Cann also had season-ending knee surgery last season, and it’s been mix and match ever since.

It’s not all on the backline, however. Defending is a team thing, Mariner said, and TFC’s midfield needs to be better at closing down service.

“Everybody’s got their own jobs within the team, but it’s a collective on the defensive side,” he explained. “You’ve got to switch on. That’s why it’s called transition. We’ve all got to switch on it’s that simple.”

Mariner uses Barcelona and Spain as examples.

“When they lose the ball, they try to get it back quickly up at the top,” he said. “That’s what we’ve got to do. It’s hard work.”

Trio train with TFC on Monday

The three players who were charged with public intoxication last Monday in Houston – Miguel Aceval, Luis Silva and Nick Soolsma – trained with the team on Monday. Silva played as a substitute on Saturday but the other two were not in uniform.

Mariner said all three are eligible for selection for Wednesday’s game in Montreal while he awaits the result of a league investigation.

“There’s nobody suspended,” Mariner said. “It’s my decision what happens in the present moment.”